Greater Victoria rental rates still favour tenants

Greater Victoria’s vacancy rate is holding steady year-over-year, according to data released Thursday by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

But landlords believe the rate is higher than reported.

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“The market is definitely tenant-friendly right now,” Amy Spencer, Rental Council of B.C. president, said from Vancouver on Thursday. “Vacancies are definitely high in Victoria.”

Tenants have more choice these days, she said.

The capital region’s apartment vacancy rate was 3.4 per cent in April, in line with the same period a year ago, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said in a report. The provincial rate was 3.5 per cent.

Edmonton and Calgary have the tightest rental markets in Canada with vacancies at 1.2 per cent, while St. John, N.B., was at 10.4 per cent. The national rate is 2.7 per cent.

In Greater Victoria, one-bedroom apartments account for slightly more than half of all purpose-built rental units. The category had the highest vacancy rate, at 3.7 per cent, although that is down from 4.1 per cent in April 2012, CMHC said.

Rob Hunter of Devon Properties, which manages about 3,800 units in Greater Victoria, said the local vacancy rate is actually closer to six or seven per cent. “The market in the last two years is the softest we’ve seen it in 20 years,” he said.

Many owners and managers surveyed by CMHC are embarrassed to give out their actual vacancy rate, Hunter said.

CMHC said there are 23,678 private rental apartments in the region and Hunter figures secondary suites add another 25,000.

Factors adding to the rental pool include houses with suites being built in the West Shore and condominium construction in the region, Hunter said.

Even so, Hunter said the CMHC valuation of a 3.4 per cent vacancy rate represents a healthy market. The core area vacancy rate is likely closer to two to three per cent.

Devon Properties’ units are competitive because of live-in managers and high standards of cleanliness, he said.

In the past few months, that company’s vacancy rate has been dropping, Hunter said.

Ian Laing, who owns 90 rental units in the capital region, admitted it is “taking a little longer to fill suites.”

He agrees with Hunter that the market is healthy.

Laing has renovated a run-down building at 2828 Rock Bay Ave. and started to rent it out two weeks ago, being choosy about who is accepted.

The building was fixed up to appeal to people who are employed and want to be within walking distance of downtown.

It will probably take two to three months to fill all 55 units, Laing said. Rents run from $650 to $895 a month, with an average of $750 for a one-bedroom suite.

Russ Godfrey, Victoria representative of the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre, said the key to renting is affordability.

Greater Victoria’s average rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,076 in April, up from $1,046 in April 2012, CMHC said. B.C.’s average in April for a two-bedroom unit was $1,069.

Vancouver had the highest rents in Canada for a two-bedroom unit, at $1,255, CMHC said.

Saguenay, Que., was the lowest at $560.

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